Modifier genes are an integral part of the genetic landscape in both humans and experimental organisms, but have been less well explored in mammals than other systems. A growing number of modifier genes in mouse models of disease nonetheless illustrate the potential for novel findings, while new technical advances promise many more to come. Modifier genes in mouse models include induced mutations and spontaneous or wild-derived variations captured in inbred strains. Identification of modifiers among wild-derived variants in particular should detect disease modifiers that have been shaped by selection and might therefore be compatible with high fitness and function. Here we review selected examples and argue that modifier genes derived from natural variation may provide a bias for nodes in genetic networks that have greater intrinsic plasticity and whose therapeutic manipulation may therefore be more resilient to side effects than conventional targets.